“What I do is what I do,” Sharon Jones told the dancing-room-only crowd at the Hart Theatre at The Egg. “It ain’t about the money… ‘cause we been doin’ this a long time without money!”
Like a lot of “overnight sensations” (Bob Seger, Otis Redding), Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings racked up a lot of miles on the road before the rest of the world discovered them, and they were doing the same supercharged Stax-era R&B long before they blew the roof off super-fests like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. And all that road work really shined through during the three-hours-and-change “Daptone Super Soul Revue” on Saturday night.
You see, this wasn’t just Sharon Jones’ gig. In the spirit of the legendary tours mounted by Memphis’ legendary R&B label Stax, the Dap-Kings (an eight-man juggernaut led by guitarist/emcee Binky Griptite) spent the opening set backing up some of the younger artists on Jones’ label, Daptone Records: Both of Jones’ backup singers got a song’s worth of attention, and then Charles Bradley mixed bubbling charisma with a voice out of the same stable as Wilson Pickett. While this was totally in keeping with the experiential tone Griptite tried to set from the moment the curtain opened, keeping this showcase set relatively short was a good move.
Jones came out swinging right after intermission, preceded by Griptite’s announcement that “The sit-down portion of the show is over!” Coming down the stairs in a blue-and-white fringed dress and jeweled short heels, Jones started working the front of the stage as she hit us with a roar that made eyes bulge and jaws drop. If you’ve heard any of Jones’ discs, let me assure you that the recordings are only a minuscule (albeit well-produced) taste of the real thing. The look and the sound recalls vintage soul sisters like Freda Payne and Mavis Staples, but the roar has roots that go all the way back to Big Maybelle, and Jones’ muscular stage presence made you wonder if Otis Redding had been reincarnated as a woman.
The set was heavy with tracks from her latest disc “I Learned the Hard Way,” and they were well worth featuring. Jones pulled a man out of the audience for a great “duet” version of “Give It Back.” Despite the fact that they guy was almost twice Jones’ size, Jones was in total control, just as she was when she brought seven women out of the audience to dance (and then dance off the stage) during the soul rave-up “My Man is a Mean Man.”
The heartbreaking “I’ll Still Be True” was written by Steve Cropper look-alike Tommy “TNT” Brenneck, a former Dap-King who played guitar during Bradley’s set.
Jones also gave a few nods to the R&B of yesteryear. She used the soulful oldie “When I Come Home” to revive some of the great dances seen on the ’70s Saturday morning TV staple “Soul Train,” and she prefaced “Mama Don’t Like My Man” with a chilling snippet of Sam Cooke’s civil-rights anthem “A Change is Gonna Come.”
It’d be easy to call what Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings do derivative – easy, simple, and not without evidence. But with that said, I defy anyone to watch the power-packed extravaganza Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings throw down and come out any other way but awestruck.
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Steve Barnes’ review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “That’s the Dap-Kings’ strength, apart from the energy and vocal power Jones brings to the stage: They write new songs with the same riffs-make-grooves punch of vintage soul, but completely contemporary in their emotional candor and fresh melodies. And they’re personal: When Jones sang “She Ain’t a Child No More,” protesting the abuse of children, she filled it with pain and empathy. Making new, authentic soul music now is a remarkable achievement, as well as thrilling entertainment — and impressively flexible. Jones often ignored the set-list, especially late in the show, when the spirit filled her and she drove the band along with it. She split songs in two and wrapped them around others, she interjected the Gospel-ish “Answer Me” (addressed to Jesus) into the flow upon realizing that Sunday was coming — and the band followed flawlessly, as if sharing her soul DNA, navigating with the same musical GPS.”